Making Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology Viable

Eleanor Hanson

Amidst growing concerns regarding the negative environmental impact automobiles have had on the planet, alternative and clean fuel technologies have become increasingly important.

In recent years, oil prices have skyrocketed and become relatively unstable.  This has led auto manufacturers to develop hybrid gas-electric systems that have become extremely popular in the United States and abroad.  Some innovative automakers are taking this idea a step further, researching zero emission clean fuel technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells.  Fuel cell vehicles combine high-pressure hydrogen gas with oxygen from the air in a chemical process that produces electricity.  The electricity is then stored in the fuel cells and is used to power an electric motor.  Only water and heat are emitted during this process and no harmful chemicals are released into the atmosphere.  Due to its efficiency and cleanliness, hydrogen fuel cell technology has been heralded as the answer for zero-emission transportation.

While this may seem like a futuristic concept, Honda Motor Company is close to making it a reality with the limited release of the FCX Clarity in regions of southern California.  Approximately 200 of these cars will be leased to consumers for three year terms at $600 per month, which includes all maintenance for the vehicle.  Southern California was the ideal location for Honda’s test run of the FCX Clarity because the hydrogen fueling station infrastructure is already in place.  The vehicle is expected to travel approximately 240 miles on one tank of hydrogen fuel.  Initial studies have shown that the vehicle experiences much less wear and tear than the standard internal combustion gasoline engine.  This will result in both low fuel and maintenance costs for consumers.

Unfortunately, neither the American nor international auto markets are prepared to embrace and support this clean technology.  In order to make hydrogen fuel cell technology viable worldwide, further development of cost-effective parts, manufacturing processes, and fueling stations is required.  The cost of materials and production of the fuel cells required to power the vehicles raises the retail price to a point that is out of reach for a majority of consumers.  Also, public refueling stations are absurdly expensive to produce and maintain.  Many of the current locations throughout California are maintained by educational or governmental organizations.  Honda is currently working to develop a home fueling station that utilizes natural gas to create hydrogen right in the owner’s garage.

It is critical for this and other zero-emission technologies to become viable in the very near future in order to preserve our automobile culture.

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